State pol calls on city to rethink embattled Fort Greene Park redesign

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Assemblyman Walter Mosley called for the city to spare the mature trees in Fort Greene Park.
File photo

A Fort Greene lawmaker wants the city to go back to the drawing board for its $10.5 million revamp of a section of Fort Greene Park, which includes the destruction of 83 mature trees.

“We don’t want to take out trees that have longevity in front of them and replace them with immature trees that would take decades to become mature,” Assemblyman Walter Mosley said. “It is critical that we try to preserve as much as we can of our existing green space and make those investments in a prudent way.”

In addition to the meadow’s makeover, Mosley raised concerns about new high-rises going up near the park, such as potential towers on land adjacent to the lawn Brooklyn Hospital Center plans to sell and a tower at Long Island University’s campus that could block out sunlight and harm the space’s flora and fauna.

“We have to take into account all of these projects in the totality of what sort of impact this will have on the browning of the park,” he said.

Mosley first voiced his concerns in an April 27 letter to the city’s Law Department, which is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Friends of Fort Greene Park, a group of residents opposed to the revamp. The group sued the Parks Department in April 2019, claiming the agency was trying to bypass a state environmental review by classifying the changes as routine maintenance and accessibility upgrades.

State Supreme Court Judge Julio Rodriguez III ordered the city prove that its plans will not impose a significant impact on the green space in January and the city plans to appeal at the state’s Appellate Court by August, according Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci.

Paolucci said that the agency was aware of Mosley’s letter and would respond to him, but declined to provide a response to the issues he raised.

“We thank the assemblyman for reaching out to us. We are aware of and will respond to his letter,” Paolucci said in a statement.

Last year’s lawsuit was not the Friends of Fort Greene Park’s first against the city. The local tree-loving watchdogs previously uncovered that officials fibbed about the health of the mature trees to advance their redesign.

The contested makeover of the 1867 park includes a grand paved plaza leading from the northwest corner to the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, requiring the leveling of grassy mounds and felling of 52 of the old trees, in addition to 31 others to accommodate a redesign at Myrtle Avenue and Washington Park.

The city wants to cut down trees to make way for a grand paved plaza with an open entrance at Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Street.NYC Parks

The plans would also include an upgraded and larger adult fitness area, a reconstructed basketball court, a new sidewalk along St. Edwards Street, and new wheelchair-accessible entrances as part of its Parks Without Borders program.

The section of the park, which sits across an expanse of public housing, hasn’t seen significant investment since the 1970s — unlike the southern half facing more well-heeled Dekalb Avenue — but locals in the past worried that the city’s plan would spur gentrification. 

The head of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy — a nonprofit group that works closely with the city on the park’s upkeep and supports the redesign — in the past argued that felling the trees would make way for new life, including younger trees, shrubs, and ferns, collectively termed “understory growth,” which would provide a better habitat for birds and bugs as well as help prevent erosion.

The roots and canopy of the existing trees are so dense that things don’t grow underneath it, said Rosamond Fletcher, the executive director of the conservancy.

“So yes, we like trees, but these types of trees are not friendly to other types of plants and habitats,” she said in October.

Fletcher declined a new request for comment.